D-Day Remembrance with Living Legends at Aerospace Museum

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG)  |  Story and photos by Trina L. Drotar
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Commander Dean “Diz” Laird and Colonel Clarence “Bud” Anderson.

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Aerospace Museum volunteer Jim Ronko reenacts the events leading up to the landing of troops at Normandy.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Seventy five years ago, Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized Operation Overlord sending 176,000 troops from England to France. The date was June 5, 1944. On the morning of June 6th, troops, including 18,000 parachutists, had landed or were landing on the shoreline of Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft had been dispatched to provide air cover for the troops. June 6th, 1944 is D-Day.

Clarence “Bud” Anderson was one of the pilots who flew 100 miles inland that day. He shared that story with a group of 100 visitors at the Aerospace Museum of California’s D-Day commemoration event on Saturday, June 1st. Anderson, a retired colonel with the USAF, was joined by retired Navy Commander Dean “Diz” Laird for a talk about their experiences during WWII.

“We are so fortunate to have them here today,” said museum director Tom Jones.

The men, a few years south of 100, entertained the audience for two hours, graciously posed for photos, and signed books, pictures, and memorabilia. They met the many attendees who stood in long lines for the opportunity to ask a question or to thank the men for their service, a phrase heard repeatedly.

Prior to their talk, museum volunteer Jim Ronko, dressed as a D-day glider pilot, led a group of nearly 50 people through a living history talk and reenactment. “Path to D-Day” began inside and finished outside in front of the C-53, a plane that would have carried gliders to Normandy. Volunteers dressed as parachutists sat inside and greeted children and adults. The tour set the stage for the talk.

WWII aces, Colonel C.E. “Bud” Anderson, USAF (Ret.) and Commander Dean S. “Diz” Laird, USN (Ret.) looked like the neighbor next door or a great uncle, belying the strength that both men displayed during WWII and continue to display.

“To all of our veterans, past and present, especially Bud and Diz, thank you for your service,” said Jones who provided an overview of D-Day before introducing the Placer High School graduates.

Anderson, a triple ace, served in WWII and Vietnam, and received, among others, the Bronze Medal Star, World War II Victory Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, and Vietnam Campaign Medal. He is a National Aviation Museum, EAA Warbirds of America, and San Diego Air and Space Museum International Air and Space hall of fame inductee. He is also a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.

Laird, born in Loomis, suffered from motion sickness but he had his sights set on flying. Among the 100 airplanes he has flown are the F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat. He scored victories in both the European and Pacific Theaters, set a record during the 1949 National Air Races where he flew an F2H Banshee. He is the recipient of Distinguished Flying Cross and Audie Murphy Award, among many others. He is also a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.

“Gentlemen, I salute you,” said Jones. The audience applauded and many saluted the two men.

“We were the hottest damn fighter squadron in the world,” Laird said, his voice quiet but strong. “We were told this, and we believed them.”

He talked about the new requirement to be qualified for night landing saying that most pilots were not enthusiastic and that reports from the executive officer “did nothing to bolster our morale.” Laird recalled a sky filled with 72 fighter pilots circling and trying to get into a traffic pattern. The men, constantly ridiculed, trained nightly. During the third week, Laird finally entered the traffic pattern, made several passes, and was determined to make the next pass his last. But he was going 10 – 15 knots too fast, caught only the top wire and was turned upside down.

“Damn Diz, we thought you were dead,” said the flight officer.

Laird did not have to make another attempt until he was back in the United States.

“It was a rather rough six months, learning new things from people who didn’t know how to do it in the first place.”

He threatened to punch his ops officer if he did not get a good mission. The mission, it turns out, nearly killed him, but he is a survivor who jumped out of an airplane for his 90th birthday and flew his 100th aircraft three years ago.

After flying a six hour mission, he returned to the ship, was seen by a doctor, and moved to sick bay where the doctor removed his appendix.

“You are one of the luckiest guys I know,” the doctor told him.

Anderson, it turns out, is also one lucky guy who credits the P-51 Mustang and Major General Jimmy Doolittle’s new instructions that fighter pilots could pursue and destroy while climbing to 18,000 ft. altitude. Previous mandates limited the planes to 15,000 ft. and required them to remain very close to the bombers.

“What a lucky break that was for us,” said Anderson. “That’s when victories soared.”

They were able to kill the experienced Luftwaffe pilots, leaving them with planes and inexperienced pilots. 

Anderson was the second flight to take off in the early morning hours of June 6th. Two squadrons of 32 aircraft were dispatched.

“Our destination was south of Normandy on the other side,” he said. The third flight leader said, “You know, that Bud Anderson seems to get home all the time. I think I’m going to follow him.” The mission lasted 6 hours, 55 minutes. A normal mission lasted 4 ½ hours.     

“It was a magnificent sight,” he said about the beach and seeing the troops and boats, adding that it was also the site of “incredible losses.”

After a standing ovation, complete with more salutes, the men met with attendees.

“You can be anything you want to be, just find something and excel at it,” said Anderson to Ryan, a young man.

Anthony Borrero, whose father also served in WWII, was one of the last to meet Laird.

“Thank you for our freedom, Commander.”

For additional information on Aerospace Museum of California, visit: https://aerospaceca.org.

 

Commander Dean “Diz” Laird and Colonel Clarence “Bud” Anderson.Aerospace Museum volunteer Jim Ronko reenacts the events leading up to the landing of troops at Normandy.Bud Anderson says to a young man named Ryan, “You can be anything you want to be, just find something and excel at it.”The tour included a C-53 plane which would have carried gliders to Normandy.